Bears veteran defense proves tough test for Caleb Williams: ‘Days like this are gonna make you better’

Eberflus: ‘It’s not perfect right now’

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams, right, works with a coach during the NFL football team's rookie camp earlier this month at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill.

LAKE FOREST – The offense is a work in progress at Halas Hall.

That should be a surprise to nobody. The Bears have a rookie quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. It’s May. Organized team activities just began this week.

Things were sloppy during practice Thursday, but the Bears aren’t panicking.

“It’s not perfect right now, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said Thursday at Halas Hall. “That’s defense, offense, special teams. Everything’s a work in progress, but we’re certainly making progress.”

Thursday’s practice was the first OTA practice that was open to members of the media. No. 1 overall draft pick Caleb Williams had his share of ups and downs, as is to be expected with a rookie quarterback.

Afterward, nobody flat out said it was a bad day for Williams, but the Bears’ veteran defense looked like it was already firing on all cylinders.

Days like this are gonna make you better.”

—  Kevin Byard, Bears safety

“Not necessarily saying that he [Williams] had a terrible day, but days like this are gonna make you better,” veteran safety Kevin Byard said. “So that’s our job and, like I said, obviously, just the first three days of practice he’s done a lot of positive things. He’s made some really great throws. Just coming in with that swag as a rookie quarterback, he doesn’t seem flustered by anything, so that’s exciting to see.”

It didn’t help that the offense was missing four starters in the lineup. OTAs are voluntary. Eberflus noted that every player has been present at some point during the offseason.

But the offense was missing two starting receivers and two starting offensive linemen Thursday. Notable absences included receiver Velus Jones Jr., receiver Keenan Allen, right tackle Darnell Wright, right guard Nate Davis and defensive end Montez Sweat.

Rookie receiver Rome Odunze, the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, was present but did not participate in team drills. Odunze injured a hamstring during rookie minicamp two weeks ago. Eberflus said the hope is that Odunze will return next week.

Without Allen and Odunze participating, receiver DJ Moore was the only one of the expected starting wide receiver trio who played Thursday.

The defense, on the other hand, was at full strength – aside from Sweat being absent. The defense is also in its third year in Eberflus’ 4-3 defensive scheme and was among the NFL’s best during the second half of last season.

“It’s frustrating, but we also know that we’re learning a new system,” Moore said. “They’ve been in that system for what, like three years right now? And then they don’t make it no better that they’re out there having fun with it and we’re just frustrated because we’re not accomplishing what we want to. But on the flip side, we know that we’re still learning and coming together as an offense.”

The Bears did not make Williams available for an interview Thursday. Eberflus, however, said he is happy with the progress that the rookie has made so far in OTAs.

Williams’ ability to learn the offense on paper, then put it into action on the practice field has been “very impressive,” Eberflus said.

“We’re not holding back,” Eberflus said. “We’re giving him a lot of information. We’re giving him the offense, and you want to be able to go through the whole offense before the offseason gets done, primarily most of it, and work it into the summer. We’ll have a plan for him there and work him into training camp and then go from there.”

Thursday’s practice marked the end of the first week of OTAs for the Bears. The Bears have more practices next week and mandatory veteran minicamp looms the first week of June.

This was the first chance Williams has had to work on the field with his veteran teammates. He has a ways to go, but this is only the beginning.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.